Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Le Samourai (1967)

Alain Delon is the most interesting part of this movie, which is an action/drama flick about a hitman. The story is interesting, the dialogue sparse but well done, and the characters are subtle. Alain Delon is spectacular as the hitman. He says almost nothing and spends most of the time standing around observing with a steely gaze. His distant character is fascinating, as we are always working to figure out who he is. Not my style of film at all, but well done. 3.5 stars.

The Ten Commandments: The Musical (2006)

Robert and Elizabeth still holds the record for worst musical in the world, but this one might be a close second. The premise has been done before, both in the actual movie The Ten Commandments and, more recently, in The Prince of Egypt, which is a far superior musical movie. The music is unoriginal and somewhat aimless. The lyrics try unsuccessfully to mesh ancient biblical language with current pop phrases and awkward metaphors that occasionally sound like they work but don't mean anything. On top of that, there are the bizarre costumes and the completely unnecessary special effects (excuse me... WHY does the initial Pharaoh glow? Does Ramses not get the glow because he's not special enough? Did Moses make the glow leave?).

There is one bright light at the end of the tunnel, though. The performers are all (with the exception of Val Kilmer) PHENOMENAL. There's the spectacular Adam Lambert, most recently famous for being an American Idol contestant, playing Joshua. Musical theater veterans Lauren Kennedy and Kevin Earley are as spectacular as their bizarre songs will let them be in their roles as the princess and Ramses. Alisan Porter plays Miriam and has simply amazing vocals. Graham Phillips, the recent star of the Broadway show "13," even shows up as a young boy who sings the ten commandments themselves to the Israelites.

So... the musical is terrible. Awful. Complete nonsense. But if you like good singing, this is a fairly brilliant collection of fantastic singers. Just close your eyes and listen to the music instead of watching the nonsense going on on stage. The entire star and a half goes to the cast. 1.5 stars.

Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (2008)

I saw the live show for the first time just a few weeks ago, so wanted to see how this would compare. Of course, there really is no comparison. Seeing it live is always better. But this is a fairly good version of the movie. The filmmakers seemed to have some difficulty during the large numbers (for example, "Christmas Bells") knowing where to focus their cameras. Rent is a chaotic show, where lots is going on at once. That was not really reflected well in the filming.

The cast, however, is quite good. Will Chase and Adam Kantor breathe new life into roles that were so clearly defined by Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp. They really bring depth to the character in new and different areas, and seeing their interpretations almost back to back, I came out with a lot more understanding of the characters... and a lot more sympathy for them.

Eden Espinosa, Renee Goldsberry and Michael McElroy were all good in their respective roles. Tracie Thoms, who I didn't recognize until the end, reprises her role from the movie and was my favorite female singer of the bunch, with strong vocals that worked well for the character.

My own real caveat was Justin Johnson, who I also saw live in Chicago. He plays Angel too campy, too performance-oriented, too cutesy. There's no real person there behind the makeup, and therefore I kind of felt Collins was getting the worst of the deal when it came to their relationship. It didn't feel real - how could it, when Angel wasn't a real person? I think he was working too hard to distinguish himself from Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who did such a spectacular job on Broadway and in the movie. In his desperate try to set himself apart, he made the character nothing but a caricature. Which is pretty much exactly the opposite of what the show wants to do.

If you have seen the movie but didn't get a chance to see the show live before it closed, I highly recommend this film. It is a fairly accurate representation of what it's like to see it live, even if it can't capture it completely. 4 stars.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bolt (2008)

Another talking animal animated movie... I figured it would just be full of unoriginal wisecracking characters and a few cultural reference gags that were totally unfunny. I was pleasantly surprised. Bolt was an odd cross between Truman from The Truman Show and Thunderbolt from 101 Dalmatians 2 (although for the most pat I'd like to forget I ever saw that movie). Bolt was joined by an oddball cast of characters, but for once they were actually interesting characters in their own right, not just "the cynical one," "the one who's not entirely sane," "the nice girl," whatever. Some of these characteristics could be found in them, but they were entirely their own. Good dialogue, good story, and good voice acting made this one of the better films of the year. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Film, alongside Kung Fu Panda and Wall-E. Although it didn't have nearly the originality of Wall-E, it was MILES above the derivative Kung Fu Panda. Well done, Disney! 4 stars.

What About Bob? (1991)

I had the idea going into this movie that it was a political satire. Where I got that idea from, I haven't the faintest idea, because it was a straightforward comedy. Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss are both hilarious in their respective roles - Bill Murray as Bob, a cheerful, friendly, but slightly unnerving patient who stalks his therapist. Richard Dreyfuss is the therapist, a self-centered egoist who is determined to keep his whole life within his power and is completely thrown when Bob invades his life and his home.

The movie descends into darker and darker humor, seeming at the end to pay tribute to old Looney Toons cartoons - you know, the ones where the person goes completely crazy trying to hunt the rabbit, or kill the cat who won't stop singing, or any of that. I didn't know how it was going to pull it off, but it managed to do it and leave me feeling extremely satisfied with the movie as a whole. Definitely one worth watching. 4 stars.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yes Man (2008)

Jim Carrey is slowly but surely moving his way up into my list of favorite actors. Even though his physical and verbal gyrations aren't always my cup of tea, he does that style of physical comedy better than anyone in showbiz today. Most importantly, he's a likable character. Even when he's being a jerk, you're sort of rooting for him deep inside.

The plot and script for this movie are fairly ridiculous and extremely predictable. Nothing original here. Most of it isn't terribly funny by itself. When it works, though, it works because of its cast. Jim Carrey is very funny when he's not tied down by the lame script, and Rhys Darby as his geeky boss is one of the definite highlights of the movie. Not really worth seeing unless you're a diehard Carrey fan. His talents are profiled much better in another movie which this has been much compared to: Liar Liar. If you just casually want to watch a Jim Carrey comedy with a mild lesson about life, check out that one instead. 2.5 stars.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Doubt (2008)

I have discovered lately that I do not care for Meryl Streep when she plays optimistic, bubbly characters. Here she is perfect as the uptight, self-righteous nun who thinks she's shady dealings in the school where she works. Her hunch (and her faith) cannot be shaken, no matter how often people come against her arguing that there's no proof. Her character is fascinating.

Is this story pro-faith? Pro-doubt? Pro-ambiguity of life? I'm not even entirely sure. I am a Christian but also a huge fan of doubt and questioning and reexamining your faith and your beliefs constantly. Doubt never hurts God. He's big enough to handle this. And sometimes when we are so completely gung-ho about it, as we see in this film, things go wrong. (I would like to quickly stress, although this is becoming a religious blog rather than a film review- the key is to not stay in doubt. Doubt until you get an acceptable answer, and let that answer your questions. You don't need to be questioning forever when an answer is in front of you.)

All the supporting actors do a phenomenal job. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is an incredibly likeable character, but as the accusations come up, his jovial expression seems more sinister. Amy Adams and Viola Davis both play their very different roles well. Viola Davis was extremely convincing as the mother who was so desperate to give her son a better life overall, she was even willing to sacrifice his immediate safety.

Great acting, great dialogue, intriguing story... Definitely worth watching. 4.5 stars.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Cute and fairly well-written, but predictable. Marilyn Monroe is particularly charming in this, proving that she actually was a very good comedic actress when given the opportunity. Lauren Bacall seems a bit energyless, although her plot is the most central of the three. A good mindless comedy, but I'm finding it hard to remember much about it a few days after seeing it. 3 stars.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

What an original movie! Constantly flipping back and forth between romantic drama, crime thriller, and inspirational rags-to-riches story, it kept my interest every minute. Jamal is a very likable character, but not overly idealized. The film plays with the idea of luck and suspension of disbelief (it's very hard to believe that most of the questions asked to him could be answered based on childhood experiences) but that's half the fun. As the movie switches around between Jamal's building romance, his occasionally brutal interrogation, and tense clips from his time on the game show, not a moment of it all is boring. It wasn't the best movie I've ever seen or anything, but it was vastly satisfying and did everything it was supposed to do, and I would not hesitate to recommend it. 4 stars.